Integrating Math, Science, and Engineering in the Classroom

Looking to integrate math, science, and engineering in your classroom? Start with the science and math practices!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering , and Math) is more than just a grouping of subject areas. It is a movement to develop deep understanding between these content areas, so students are more competitive in the 21st-century workforce.   STEM helps develop a se

t of thinking, reasoning, researching, collaborating and creating skills that students can use in all areas of their lives. STEM isn’t a standalone class—it’s a way to intentionally incorporate different subjects across an existing curriculum.

But if you are new to using STEM in your classroom, or if you are a secondary math or science teacher and have never integrated the subjects before, where do you start?  In my opinion, the best and easiest place to start is with the practices.  Regardless of whether your curriculum is aligned to the Common Core Math Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, or neither, the practices are important processes and proficiencies that all students should be engaged in while learning and applying the content.  Several of these math and science practices naturally overlap.

What is a
Science or Math Practice?
  A mathematic or scientific practice is a
behavior that mathematicians or scientists use to seek and explain answers to
questions they have about the world around them. By focusing on these
behaviors, you are enabling students to relate mathematic and scientific ideas
to real world situations and apply them in everyday life.

The
Framework for K-12 Science Education
identifies eight practices of science
and engineering as “essential for all students to learn”:

1. Asking questions (for science)
and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out
investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting
data

5. Using mathematics and computational
thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for
science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from
evidence

8.
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

What are the
commonalities between Math and Science?

Let’s start
with Science Practice #5
: Using Mathematics and Computational
Thinking.
 

This practice encourages students to use mathematics and computational thinking to clarify and build relationships and models among the various representations found in mathematics, science, and engineering.  Math and science are partners in critical thinking. As students observe and collect data, it is imperative for them to learn the computation and mathematical principles associated with gathering their information to understand scientific concepts. This can be through observations, measurement, recording and the processing of data.  This logically brings us to Science Practice 4, which includes a heavy math content focus.

Science Practice #4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Once collected, data must be presented in a
form that can reveal any patterns and relationships which allows results to be
communicated to others. By collecting and analyzing data, scientists are able
to make meaning of the information they have collected. For elementary children,
this can connect to the math standards of tallying results, constructing a charts,
pictographs and bar graphs.  By middle
and high school students are now relating the data to a line graph, creating an
equation of a linear function, or for bivariate data, a scatter plot with the
line of best fit. Learning to analyze and interpret data will enable students
to recognize patterns and make decisions based on these findings.

Overlapping
Practices:  Science Practice #2:
Developing and Using Models & Math Practice #4:  Model with Mathematics

Both
of these practices involve using models to problem-solve real world situations in
math and science.  Many of those models
are similar, making it easier to integrate STEM in their lessons.  Models are a tool for thinking and making
predictions that allow students to apply the content to solve problems arising
in everyday life, society, and the workplace. 
Modelssuch as diagrams,
drawings, tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas help students to test
hypotheses and possible solutions to complicated problems. 

Overlapping Practices:  Science Practice # 7: Engaging in Argument
from Evidence & Math Practice #3:  Reason
Abstractly and Quantitatively

Asking students at any age to explain their
understandings allows them to engage in critical thinking and encourages the
development of collaboration. Through the use of these practices, students will
compare alternatives, formulate
evidence based on test data, make arguments from evidence to defend their
conclusions, evaluate others’ ideas critically, and revise their designs in
order to achieve the best solution to the problem at hand.  Students will learn to identify the strengths
and weaknesses of a line of reasoning and seek out the best explanation for a
natural phenomenon. Students will explain and
defend their position based on the results of an experiment and data
collected.  They justify their conclusions,
communicate them to others, and respond to the questions or arguments of their
peers. Through these practices, a common science and
math language can be developed by integrating appropriate content
vocabulary. 

Regardless of the entry point, the very nature of STEM is engagement. When
the focus is on the design,
application, and integration of various pieces—which frequently
involve a dose of hands-on maker project-based learning—learners natural
curiosity is ignited.

For more detailed information on the science and math practices , see these websites:

Math:

CCSS
Standards for Mathematical Practice:  http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

Math
Practices with Video Examples:  http://www.insidemathematics.org/common-core-resources/mathematical-practice-standards

Math
Practices Progression Through Grade Levels: 
http://www.k12.wa.us/corestandards/pubdocs/mpbygradelevel.pdf

Science: 

NGSS
at NSTA:  https://ngss.nsta.org/PracticesFull.aspx

A
Framework for K-12 Science Education:  https://www.nap.edu/read/13165/chapter/7#44


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